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A Review of WiMAX Technology

I have been teaching myself about WiMax technology  and have started a “living document” over on my Google Docs Drive.   I am setting this to a public “research paper” so anyone else interested in learning about this can review.

The Highlights

WiMAX is NOT the same as “4G”, at least not as it is thought of in the common American vernacular.   Most people mean “4G/LTE” not “4G WiMAX” when they say 4G.

Think of WiMAX as WiFi on steroids.

The specification is officially called 802.16, much like the WiFi 802.11 standard.   It too has suffixes like 802.16d/e similar to WiFi’s 802.11b/g/n which many people are familiar with.

Many countries, like Korea, have a sophisticated WiMAX network.  Many consumer devices, such as cell phones and tablets, that are sold in these countries have WiMAX built in.   Very much like American devices having WiFi built in.    Many devices that have WiMAX have WiFi and LTE or CDMA built in (wow, that is a lot of antennas and signal processors!)

As last mile (the piece from the hub on the street to your house) services fall behind the demand curve in America more & more people will be looking at WiMAX solutions as they come available.  Clear Communications has Clear WiMAX in a number of cities, as does Sprint.  As cable & legacy telephone companies continue to fail at meeting customer needs (I’m looking at YOU AT&T, Comcast, and Knology!) this will become far more prolific.

Building A WiMAX Network

Unfortunately the starting installation costs run nearly $15k for a single cell (not cell phone, though that is where the common name comes from, a cell is a radio signal “footprint” or range in which you can “see” it).     However, do it right and you can get an initial cell that covers 8 miles or MORE with 4Mbps to 30Mbps throughput.      Then you need to pay someone for connection to the Internet backbone, just  like putting WiFi in your home.    In Charleston a solid Fiber connection runs $100/Mb with price drops not coming until the 10Mbps level.      

However I still hope to either find funding or get enough cash on hand to build my first experimental Free Public WiMAX cell in Mount Pleasant.    Who knows, maybe Kick Starter or some other crowd funding can help.

I’d love to see  a donation based system where high speed internet is ubiquitous and DISRUPTIVE to the incumbent communication carriers.  In Charleston, at least, home Internet is still exceedingly expensive and quality of service sucks.

Let’s do something about that!

The Document

My more formal notes will go in here.   This is far from complete and I will be adding to it as I learn more and consider building out my own network.

Can’t see it in an iframe?   View my “A Review of WiMAX Technology” here.

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Choosing A Wireless Router

Last week the network dropped.  Again.   This was the 5th time in about a month that I lost all connectivity mid-session.  I was in the middle of pushing some web updates and, as usual,  Comcast left me hanging.   When I made my 10PM call to customer service I was met with one of the rudest know-it-all “customer disservice” people I ever encountered.   She argued with me about everything and told me I had no idea what I was talking about when I told her that rebooting my laptop would not get my cable modem to sync up with their head end router.   (I had checked the logs on the modem and it lost sync and the signal level was out of spec.)

Even though the Comcast Business Class service rep., who came out the next morning instead of THREE DAYS later as the “service rep” insisted was the ONLY option, was very helpful and knowledgeable ; the damage had been done.  I was sick of sudden drops, lag, and network throttling that Comcast insists they do not do.    It was time for a change.

What does this have with wireless routers?  We will get there in a minute… just bear with me.

Knology To The Rescue

Fast forward three weeks.  The Knology installation guy shows up at my house EARLY (take THAT Comcast), was courteous, professional, and *gasp* actually knowledgeable about his trade.     He tested the lines, replaced several faulty splitters that Comcast had installed and eventually got a perfectly clean signal at the modem connection point.    We connected the modem and had a great connection.   The 20M/2M service was actually pulling 27M/2M consistently with 0.0001% rate fluctuation.    This guy actually tested things after he installed (take THAT TOO Comcast).   Everything looked great.   Then all hell broke loose.

I HAD NO WIRELESS ROUTER!

My old Comcast modem had wireless.   The new Knology modem did not.

Setting Up My Wireless

I left the install connected to my wired hub and went to work.  While at the office I picked up a couple of pieces of wireless network equipment we had lying around that was no longer being used.   In the mix I had an old Netopia Wireless DSL modem, which can be used as a wireless access point if you disable the DSL port and a 2-year-old Belkin Wireless N router that was a $200 top-of-the-line unit back in the day.

When I got home the first thing I did was hook up the Belkin Wireless N.  I was connected within minutes.  However I did notice the network was lagging.    I attributed it to being on wireless and having several devices on the wireless network as well as the TiVo and DVD connected.     Then I started getting dropped connections. However this time the modem logs looked perfect.  NO errors, no sync problems no dropped connections there.     Eventually I narrowed down the problem.  It was the Belkin router.    It was getting all kinds of packet loss and transmission errors and was dropping a TON of packets with .190-199 in the last IP address octet.  Very odd.

I temporarily tried the Netopia Wireless but that is a simple A/B series wireless router.  It worked, but was very quickly saturated as soon as other devices came online.  It simply did not have the bandwidth over the wireless channels to get the job done with a tablet, 2 wireless phones, the VOIP hard line phone, 2 laptops, the TiVo and the DVD player.    It worked but was slow as heck at peak load.

I needed something better.

The Netgear Utopia

Netgear N600
Netgear N600

I did some homework and found several glowing reviews for the Netgear N600 series wireless N routers.   Since it was now Sunday and neither my Netopia DSL router or my Belking N router were up to task for a big marketing and site update project, I decided to shop local.   Turns out Walmart had the very router I was looking at AND it was a fair price.   Even with taxes it was within $5 of the Amazon pricing and was near or below most online competitors.

40 minutes later I had returned from Wally World with my new router (and a big-bag of M&Ms, a new garden hose, and 3 coloring books for my son… this is WHY you don’t go to Walmart to shop for “just a router”… dang impulse buys).      Within 15 minutes my new router was installed, fully configured to my liking with a new SSID and passwords, and was online.

HOLY SMOKES WAS THIS THING FAST!!!

I mean LIGHTNING FAST compared to ANYTHING I was using before.     I immediately saw my laptop speed tests pulling the full 27M/2M speeds we had seen with the wired test unit at the router.  This was with all the other network equipment still online.

Bad Communication = Slow Networks

After doing a good bit of testing, re-trying the Belkin, re-connecting the Comcast service (it was not turned off yet), and doing a bunch of general cross-checking and sanity tests it had become clear.    Choosing the right networking equipment is paramount to maintaining solid throughput to your desktop (or tablet) computers.  If any link in the chain is weak you will suffer.

The technical reasons for highly variant network performance has a lot to do with packet re-transmission.   To keep it somewhat less technical, think of it as a simple phone conversation where you MUST get every word right.   To do this you ask the other party to repeat every word they hear.   If they say a word incorrectly you repeat that word until they say it back correctly.    On a poor connection this may happen 3 or 4 times on every-other-word.   That can make for a VERRRRRYYYY long conversation.

In today’s networks a lot of things can go wrong to make your surfing destination and your computer “repeat the words” over & over again.   A wireless network often adds a lot more possibilities for interference.   For example, turning on the microwave oven, or a neighbor turning on their TV.    You don’t HEAR the interference, but your wireless network does.  Think of it like someone turning on a vacuum cleaner right next to you while you are doing the “repeat every word” conversation with your long distance friend.  You are likely not going to hear very well and be repeating a lot of words.

Erradicating Slow

In my case several things were causing problems.   The Comcast connection to my house is not very good which means the “volume” of the conversation is very inconsistent, too loud some moments, too soft at others.   Then the modem Comcast had was an old model that was very slow, think of it as if you had a semi-retarded phone operator in the middle trying to keep up with the “repeat the word” conversation and they just skip words when they fall behind.    The Belkin router refused to repeat any word with the “ch” sound in it, like a Chinese waiter mixing up L’s and R’s and you trying to guess what they really meant.     The Netopia DSL router was mostly just very retarded and easily distracted, barely being able to keep up with a slow deliberate conversation.

In the end I eliminated all the slow, retarded, missed-translation, volume related issues.    A tested solid clean connection with a modern high-speed modem from Knology connected directly to the Netgear N600 Wireless N Router keeps everything humming along.  The conversations are crystal clear and the Netgear N600 + Knology modem rarely, if ever, repeat a word.   A 2-minute conversation takes 2-minutes, not 20.    That translates into getting the full 20M (27M) /2M service all the way from “the Internet” straight into my wireless network.

Get The Best

In your network, choose the best equipment you can afford.   Read online reviews and select the RIGHT solution.   Higher price does not always mean better performance.    In my case the reviews proved out to be well founded and I too give the Netgear N600 (WNDR3400v2) 5-stars.

Netgear N900
Netgear N900

I liked the Netgear N600 so much I bought the “big brother” N900 (WNDR4500) for the office and I like that one EVEN better.  It too was quick to setup and improved network performance.  It also gave us the ability to quickly and easily turn a USB drive into a network share and turn my old Brother MFC-4800 laser (another great piece of equipment, by the way) printer/scanner into a network printer/scanner within minutes and with one quick/simple applet install on our Windows and Mac computers.

If you are in the market for a wireless router I highly recommend the Netgear N600 and N900 routers.

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Is Comcast Playing “Big Brother” With Your Internet?

The Symptom

This morning I spent over an hour trying to publish a new update of Store Locator Plus to the public WordPress extensions directory.   It failed, multiple times.  I assumed it was something wrong with our repository so I decided to move on to something else until the remote server was fixed.

My next task was to get the WordPress language translation tools into my dev kit so we can start providing better international support.  I decided to fetch the latest language dev kit with subversion via the standard checkout:

svn co http://svn.automattic.com/wordpress-i18n/tools/trunk/

 

Here are a couple of the many failure messages I received back after about 10 minutes:

svn: PROPFIND of '/wordpress-i18n/tools/trunk': could not connect to server (http://svn.automattic.com)
svn: PROPFIND of '/wordpress-i18n/!svn/vcc/default': could not connect to server (http://svn.automattic.com)

 

My first assumption was that my virtual machine was having network issues.  I reset the network, then shut down & restarted the virtual machine.  No luck.   I then tried directly from the host.  Again no luck.  I decided to go to the office and try it from there.  Maybe my modem or router at the house was causing issues.

A Clue

I get to the office and try again.  Same problems.    Odd, more Googling was in my future.   After reading a lot of articles about proxy servers with svn (I don’t use a proxy) and doing all the “svn tricks” I know and that I could dig up online, I stumbled across an interesting post at Stack Overflow.  This is what caught my attention:

Update

I had a co-worker test this out on his home connection — he uses Comcast as well. He got the same error as I did. So it appears to be some Comcast-related issue specific to the WordPress svn repository. I was able to checkout other public repositories via http (e.g. from Google Code) just fine.

Huh, that’s interesting.  I too could use SVN with a variety of other services.  I also was using Comcast at the home office and on one-half of the network at the corporate office.   So I decided to try a couple of things.

The Test

First, shut off the Comcast connection at the office and force my system to connect via the T1. Guess, what?  It worked.  The repo was cloned immediately.

Interesting.   Second test, log in to our server in Michigan on multiple backbones, NONE of which are on Comcast.   Hey, look at that… it worked immediately as well.

Back to the office services.  Turn off the T1, turn on just Comcast.  Instant fail.   Well not instant, it waits for about 5 minutes then fails.

Bandwidth Caps

In addition to the failure to pull subversion content directly from the WordPress IP addresses, we have also found several other interesting things about Comcast Business Class Internet.   Comcast is billing us for 50Mbps/10Mbps speeds at both my home office and our corporate office locations.  We have NEVER been able to get anything close to that at either location.  Our download speeds always seem to max out around 20Mbps/4Mbps at home and 26Mbps/6Mbps at the office.

Today, in an effort to understand what may be going on, we ran ShaperProbe from GA Tech.   It turns out that at my home office we are dropping so many upload packets that many tools, including ShaperProbe fail.   We also learned the Comcast is THROTTLING the incoming bandwidth at the home office to 17Mbps, less than HALF the 50Mbps promised and paid for.   This is one method used to ensure all users have some bandwidth when they oversell a neighborhood.   Ouch.

Comcast Traffic Shaping Test
Comcast Traffic Shaping Test

Comcast Speed Test Results

After the “network improvement” work that Comcast did this week our Corporate line is now crawling at 1/10th the advertised download rate.    We are able to receive our packets from WordPress, but now we can’t get more than a handful of simple transfers going at the same time.

Comcast Speed Test December 2011
Comcast Speed Test December 2011

 

Comcast Fails

I am still doing research on this issue and will post updates here.  However it is very obvious from the initial tests that Comcast is doing some sort of traffic shaping or other network manipulation on their business class services and it is “breaking the Internet”.

I’ll try contacting them, but I am 99.999% certain that whomever I get ahold of will be clueless.  They usually are.    In fact I bet the first thing they ask me to do is reboot my computer, then turn off the modem.  Then they’ll bounce the modem remotely.

We have called Comcast Business services and we are quite shocked to have reached Terry at Business Class Services.  She actually emailed us and is escalating the problem to a higher level tech and is going to chase this down for us today, on a Saturday of all days.   Wow.  That was surprising!  Now lets all pray for some results as doing this proxy thing is a pain!

Reaching Comcast

http://business.comcast.com/smb/contact

Business Customer Service:  (800) 391-3000

Residential Customer Service: (800) 266-2278

In the meantime if you are having the same issues with Comcast please share.   Especially if you found a viable workaround to the issue.

Tracking The Issue

Here are some related articles we’ve dug up about this issue:

 

Update

 

12/17/2011 03:45 EST
Comcast has found a routing issue and is working on it.  We’ll see what happens.

 

12/17/2011 04:15 EST
Comcast claims the routing is fine.  The problem, they claim, is on the WordPress servers.   I made it clear via email this is not the case.    The service works 100% fine when I switch all routing to/from the wordpress.org or automattic.com domains to go over the Windstream T1 v. Comcast business service.   Looks like they couldn’t find a quick/easy answer and are back to their lame excuses and passing-the-buck.

 

12/18/2011 01:05AM EST
Comcast reps never pinged me back before they left for the day (10PM) as promised.   Not surprised about that.   “Dave”, the level 2 tech, said it is not a Comcast problem and that was that.  Bah.  Time to ratchet it up a notch.

 

12/21/2011 10:03AM EST
Nobody ever called back or emailed us about this issue.   We did receive two automated calls the past 2 days in a row that our service would be offline from midnight until 5AM for “network improvement
work.    This morning our WordPress packets are now arriving intact.   Slow as can be though.  Our 50M/10M line is now clocking in at 5M/5M as noted by Comcast Speed Test.

 

Similar Articles

 

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Changing Network Device Priorities In Vista

My Windows Vista laptop has a strong desire to always connect to the wireless network, even when I’m connected-by-wire at the office.   This is due to the fact that most Windows laptops are setup to use the wireless connection first if there is a wireless signal available.   While I was always able to quickly find this setting in Windows/XP, on Windows Vista it is hidden away in a “advanced menu”.   For some reason I always forget how to find it, thus this blog post serves as my own memory kit.

How To Change Network Priorities In Vista

  • Go to your mange networks settings.
    I like to get there by right-clicking the network icon in the systray & selecting “manage networks”.
    You can also go to the start menu, control panel, network connections
  • Hold down the ALT key, release then click “Advanced Settings…” within a  few seconds.
    This is the “secret sauce” that gets you to the advanced menu.
  • Move around the entries under Adapaters and Bindings (first tab) / Connections (first list box).
    This changes which connection will be served first.

That’s it. Hope these tricks helped you as well.

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Windows XP – Resolving Aquiring Network Address Problems

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And now on to our article…

After spending nearly a week on & off removing a virus from a notebook computer, we are down to one last task… getting the network services back online.   Here are some notes about how to get around this problem and the ever-present “acquiring network address” that never is acquired.

Resetting Windows Network Stacks

  • To reset the Windows/XP TCP/IP stack use this command from the command shell:
    netsh int ip reset reset.log
  • To reset the Windows/XP Socket layer, use this command from the command shell:
    netsh winsock reset catalog

Check For Rootkits

Turns out the virus installed a rootkit.  These are special files hidden by the operating system that change how the base OS works.  That makes them hard to detect & remove with normal spyware.  TDSS rootkit by Kapersky Labs helps fix that:

In our case the file c:\WINDOWS\system32\DRIVERS\isapnp.sys was compromised.  You can repair this with a Windows XP recovery (sometimes) by following these instructions : http://support.microsoft.com/kb/315311.

In our case Combo-Fix also found problems with:

  • c:\windows\bootstat.ocx
  • c:\windows\Copy of notepad.exe
  • c:\windows\system32\drivers
    pf.sys
  • c:\windows\system32\drivers\Packet.dll
  • c:\windows\system32\drivers\Thumbs.db
  • c:\windows\system32\drivers\wpcap.dll